Thanks to Mark Littlewood for this one. Very funny if it wasn’t so true.
I was invited at the Houses of Parliament to come and speak about the bottom-up internet of things community and as one of the only people below the age of 40, the only woman speaker and the only one not involved in a multi-billion pound organisation, it was easy to stand out. I’m very grateful to John Riley for the invitation and thought I’d post up both my slides but also a map of iot companies I’ve been collecting. It’s getting a little traffic which pleases me as we really need to acknowledge how much is happening in Europe and network better. There’s an advantage to everyone being an Easyjet flight away.
View IOT companies (UK & Europe) in a larger map
There’s a point in any entrepreneur’s life when you get up in the morning and think: maybe this isn’t working. I had that moment in the summer of 2010, 6 months I closed Tinker. I’m having one of those days now. I’m hoping it’ll pass.
In the last months, I’ve started seeing a lot of traffic to blog posts about how hard it was being a woman in tech, how horrid conference organisers were, how sexist technologists were and how Sheryl Sanderberg had joined the rest of us in her recognition of the basic principles of feminism (this coming from a woman who used to hide her good grades to get dates is no small feat). I looked around in dismay, wondering if I’d ended up in one of the American rom coms I love so. Geeks as jocks? Really?
Considering I’ve been working professionally in and around technology since 2006 I thought the days of Kathy Sierra’s terrible ordeal were behind us. I thought “phsssh, I’ll keep calm and carry on”.
Then, last month I went to do a keynote presentation at a workshop week for students in a product design course in Antwerp. One of my co-speakers is one of the founders of a local trends company who found it essential to show a picture of a scantily-clad young woman not once but twice, saying that his job didn’t involve looking at women like that but talking to men in suits and she didn’t have any money anyway. My heart stopped. Really? This was an acceptable image to share to young designers in the making? This was an acceptable metaphor to young men and (some) women who were making decisions about where they wanted to throw their weight in the brave world of design? I ignored the rest of his talk and busied myself thinking really hard about how I would react. I could slander him on the internet which i sortof did. But I felt that wasn’t enough. After all the talks were done, I went up to him and told him in no uncertain way that that slide had made me stop listening to him, that it might be more advisable to try to make the point in another way, with a different image. I told him that he was telling a story to these young people that didn’t need to be told in that way, stories about the world out there that were damaging. I tried to be constructive in speaking to him. He had come in late so didn’t know who I was and was obviously troubled. He said he didn’t intend for the message to be perceived in that way and thanked me politely for my feedback.
That was the first time in my career I’ve had to apply the thinking of the “If you see something, say something” ads in the New York metro but I felt good about it. Maybe I’m of a generation of women who’ve had it easy or refused to see what was under their nose all along, but I felt I did the right thing for my industry and realised that perhaps I ought to get involved further in creating a pro-active, positive environment for women like me who are getting on with work, doing interesting things. And also for younger women who are wondering what to make of their careers. We owe it to them at the very least.
Keen not to wallow in the Antwerp experience, I shouted out on Twitter about organising some kind of show and tell for International Women’s Day in Shoreditch on March 8th. The lovely Natasha Carolan, Ana Bradley and Becky Stewart raised their hands in wanting to help and in less than a month we managed to put together what I’d like to think was an absolutely awesome evening. We showcased the work of more than 20 women-led organisations or projects in London and Brighton, hosted by the lovely Poke who served drinks & sushi and Redmonk who gave us craft beer. We need to see these kinds of events more often and not only lean in, but say something clearly, concisely: we are here.
I just came back from showcasing Good Night Lamp at the Launch Festival (thanks Jason for inviting us). If you don’t know it, it’s a fairly local San Francisco event for startups, and we were one of a handful of startups that had a physical component to them. Here are some quick thoughts on what I learnt over the course of those 3 days in the Demo Pit.
- Internet of Things? You mean Quantified Self right?
In SF, most people’s references to the Internet of Things are FitBit & Jawbone who are the only ones with offices there. Self-improvement and health are the types of ideas and concepts that people understood well. Everything else, felt really new to them.
- Internet of Things? You mean hardware right?
The term internet of things doesn’t map onto many examples of projects for a community of people who are extremely web or mobile focused. If there’s hardware, it’s got to be connected to a screen basically (see this week’s sxsw trends). The best example of this is the “pivoting” that Green Goose has been going through. They started with RFID tags in everyday objects, to augmented toothbrushes which they found a lot of funding for, to now sensors in toys and objects using the Belkin WeMo to talk to an iPhone or iPad. The reaction from the judges is worth listening to (6:30 minutes in).
- Investment in Internet of Things isn’t in SF yet.
There were a LOT of investors at Launch, and most of them only talked about software, which is why Green Goose’s pivot from a hardware heavy product to a few sensors in a bear makes sense. If you’re after money and financial support, you will tend to end up catering to the investment you know you can get, because investment also means support and contacts.
- Europe has an advantage in terms of community, but not capital
SF has just had its first 2 internet of things meetups last month, there’s an Open Internet of Things meetup in Silicon Valley every month with 50 odd participants. This will get big very quickly. I’ve been running the #iotlondon meetup for Cosm for over a year and before that at Tinker, we grew a community who were creative, understood what hardware could bring to product design, to spaces, buildings, installations and more. That hasn’t quite happened in SF yet it seems to me, as there aren’t as many art/design schools or R&D departments. But this is just a question of time. They have the capital, and once a few VCs get into the swing of things (Fitbit & Jawbone were initially supported by the Foundry Group who are in Boulder, CO the home of Sparkfun not surprisingly) then people will move their startups over and flock to the States for another boom. Europe has the community of investors believe me, but they are slow off the block. Hopefully they will realise, this is what their Silicon Valley could be. Not web, but things.
About 2 years ago, I was making jokes and designed a tote bag when the government announced its Tech City program. I didn’t imagine that what would actually happen was that we would start to see the type of confused political interest that has led to proposed changes in planning laws.
Maybe it’s because during the Olympics politicians were invited to an area of town they wouldn’t have been caught dead in previously. Maybe on those trips to Old Street they realised it’s full of nice post-industrial buildings that would make for the types of fantastic loft spaces they experience in New York. Maybe it’s because they compare Shoreditch to the City and think that housing would help liven it up during weekends. Maybe if they’d lived in Hackney, they’d understand why they should just leave it be and stick to the initial plan to support startups and a tech community not give bankers a chance to live 10 minutes away from work.
One of the many reasons why Shoreditch works for startups is precisely its crap, badly heated, badly connected post-industrial buildings that don’t cost a fortune. That’s why there was an industry there in the first place right? And also everyone’s here, for now. (I’m already starting to hear of friends and colleagues relocating south of the river or even more east, where prices aren’t crazy.)
Clean Shoreditch up and you end up with the cultural desert that Old Spitalfields Market suffered after it was renovated in 2005. Building for the sake of building is all very well for the rich, middle eastern investors or bankers, but really for startups, your lowest overhead should be rent, otherwise, well you’re not a startup.
I won’t even mention other tenants of Shoreditch in the arts, design, fashion houses, fashion schools, illustrators, galleries. I thought we’d established that fashion alone accounts for 1.7% of GDP and creates 800K jobs. Do these political men and women think fashion happens in residential areas? Didn’t think so. I wish Sam Cameron would pipe up on this issue if anyone should as a supporter of fashion and creative industries. Anyway, I digress.
That the area is getting international interest is great, for that to affect real estate was always going to happen, but really in these proposed planning changes, the only people that will suffer are precisely the companies the government wanted to support.
Thanks Dave & Eric.
I was reminded of this video which, shot in 2000, is strangely prescient of the times we live in now. The beauty of Hussein Chalayan‘s work never ends it must be said but I have a soft spot for this collection.
“Chalayan’s Afterwords Collection was inspired by the story of refugees, having to leave home in times of trouble. The transformation of furniture into dresses, carrying cases, and a skirt suggests the necessity of leaving one’s home in a hurry with nothing but the clothes on one’s back. ”
I wish more product designers and hackers dabbled with fashion in an intelligent way, rather than interpreting the idea of future clothing as touch screen gloves.
Thanks Used Magazine.
So I just came back from CES. The Good Night Lamp had a booth there where we launched our Kickstarter campaign and I thought I’d share what I learnt.
1. It’s expensive but worth it.
I booked the booth back in June 2012. It was a convenient deadline to push product development forward and I’m glad I did it. But we ended up spending about £13K and that’s for a 10 x 20 feet booth. It turns out that GES (the organisation that you pay money to for additional services on top of booth hire) don’t provide most of the services they claim to provide for small booths. We ended up spending $1.2K on site for things like curtain hanging, electrical layout, carpet and labour when we thought most of these services were covered already. We arrived a full 3 days before the opening and only got our services taken care of by the 3rd day. Being there and being nice about it mattered though because GES are massively unionised, so it’s a huge group of people basically constantly on break or at lunch. Having said that, it was a good platform for what we were doing and we had the right people talk to us, give us feedback and tweet about us. We never would have gotten that first kick if we hadn’t been there.
2. Only first day counts
I’ve designed and manned booths for Topoware at the Milan Furniture Fair and Lirec at CeBit and they are sortof the same as CES in terms of size but the rythm is totally different. Basically the first day is the only day that counts as it’s the only one the press will be roaming around. And if you haven’t dropped about 200 USB keys (we didn’t) at the press centre, you might not get CNN to come and see you. Press you see, have had a press day before the opening that you might not be able to pay for and then will only spend one day roaming the exhibition. Same goes for quite a lot of the corporate types coming from beyond California who will want to fly in on the Monday and fly out on the Thursday. Local Californian business people seemed to show up on the Thursday but we never reached the level of busy-ness of the first day.
3. Stick to the sides
For each hall, the large and most boring corporations were in the middle because they were the only ones with the budget to get a huge amount of square footage to sell hard drives, expensive musical robots, headphones or cloud computing services. All the interesting stuff happens in the smaller booths lining the walls of each hall. Lots of really weird little companies like ours trying to make it big. Those were the interesting things. The rest, except Belkin who had a pretty stand where you could actually sit down, were really dry and were the only ones to use booth babes.
4. Bring a packed lunch & some sweets
The food at CES is HORRID, overpriced, with long lines and a sad eating environment. We had lots of apples, bottles of water and snacks which saved us. We had bags of sweets which we handed out to people who came to visit the booth and that was good because visitors were walking around and wanted a sugar fix anytime in the late morning or after lunch. It definitely helped our traffic.
5. Be ready for America
(I won’t talk about the pastiche that is Vegas because that’s another blog post about post-cinema architecture.) This is quite a tech-friendly crowd but you’ll also end up meeting some fairly strange characters. We had some war veterans suggest that Al-Qaeda could put some bombs into our lamps and I was blessed by a right-wing christian woman for my idea. Just smile and breathe. They’re your customers too.
(a 6 year old tradition)
1.What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
Talk to investors.
2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Yep have been going to the gym every week for over a year and adding a new sport.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, my friends A and S had another little girl and my sister in law had L.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
5. What countries did you visit?
France, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Australia, Canada.
6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
7. What date from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory?
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Having the courage to start another company. I have started 3 companies since 2006.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Too little holidays.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
11. What was the best thing you bought?
A plate from the Jules Verne restaurant at the Eiffel Tower.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
London during the Olympics.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
14. Where did most of your money go?
The Good Night Lamp.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The next 30 days where I go to Vegas to show off the Good Night Lamp at CES.
16. What song/album will always remind you of 2010?
Ruin by Cat Power.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Cooking at home.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Having conversations with the wrong people.
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
22. Did you fall in love in 2010?
see previous response.
23. What was your favourite TV programme?
I don’t watch TV.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
26. What was the best book(s) you read?
Everything that is solid melts into air.
27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
None I can think of.
28. What did you want and get?
A great team to work with.
29. What did you want and not get?
More hours in the day.
30. What were your favourite films of this year?
Haywire & the Hunger Games. Skyfall & Batman were good too. Mission Impossible 4 was surprisingly good.
31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 32 and spent it in London.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
More time to read books.
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
A return to black.
34. What kept you sane?
Hanging out with C, N and K.
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
36. What political issue stirred you the most?
The Wikileaks scandal, fascinating.
37. Who did you miss?
38. Who was the best new person you met?
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
Do or do not, there is no try.
40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?
Take me back to beautiful England
And the grey, damp filthiness of ages,
And battered books and
Fog rolling down behind the mountains,
On the graveyards, and dead sea-captains.
Let me walk through the stinking alleys
To the music of drunken beatings,
Past the Thames River, glistening like gold
Hastily sold for nothing.
Let me watch night fall on the river,
The moon rise up and turn to silver,
The sky move,
The ocean shimmer,
The hedge shake,
The last living rose, quiver.”